One of the regiments that carried out their training at Shoreham during WW1 was the Northamptonshire Regiment. Unusually despite wartime restrictions their stay there and at Southwick is comprehensively recorded in numerous photographs that were taken at the time.
One soldier who served with the Northamptonshires and trained at Shoreham was Albert Warren of whom we are lucky enough to know a little more through a magazine article in Albert’s home town and letters that he wrote home whilst serving his country.
Before the war Albert, or Bert to his friends and family, worked with his father at the local brickworks and at the outbreak of hostilities at the age of 21 enlisted with the 7thBattalion of the Northamptonshires.
His first posting was for training at Shoreham where the newly enlisted men were initially accommodated under canvas. By November of 1914 though exceptionally wet weather made conditions there impossible and the Battalion were moved to billets in nearby Southwick. In the meantime wooden huts were erected at the camp to provide more suitable living quarters to enable Albert’s battalion to move back there in April the following year.
By July of 1915 training at Shoreham Camp was completed and the Battalion marched to Guildford then on to Woking to be billeted there and join the Aldershot Command for musketry practice. The 50 mile march was carried out over two days with an overnight stop at Horsham. An exhausting test for the new recruits, soaked as they were by heavy showers and a debilitating lack of sufficient meals on the journey.
It was from Woking that the first of Albert’s four surviving letters was posted home on the 2ndJuly 1915. In it he writes that upon reaching Guildford they were met by a cheering crowd for the last mile that included a strenuous climb up the hill there. At that point the weary men were called to march to attention, the regimental band struck up a lively polka and despite their exhaustion Albert writes ‘…… we marched fine, and going up the hill the sweat rolled off us like rain drops but we didn’t mind that we kept the reputation of the good old Northamptonshires……..’
There have been various reports of Shoreham Camp from others, both good and bad, but it seems Albert and his mates recalled it with some affection as another letter he wrote from the Inkerman Barracks at Woking Albert compares both places ‘…… I can’t say I like these barracks like the old Shoreham Camp. We have all wished to be back (there) again ….. ‘
The Battalion was posted to France on the 1stSeptember and in a letter to his friend Cecil, Albert describes the journey from Boulogne to what may have been Bethune (his misspelling Beheeu(?), 16 miles from Laires) – it was certainly the area of the Somme where he was to spend the rest of his war. It was near here that he had his introduction to trench warfare and on one occasion was directed by ‘a Scotch officer’of the way to their unit’s trench. It transpired the officer was not Scottish but a German disguised in British uniform whom Albert ominously stated ‘paid the penalty’when they found him again.
After a period of heavy shelling the 7thtook part in an attack and reached the German trenches where Albert recalled one callous moment when an enemy soldier begged for mercy but was met with a bayoneting in reply. The battalion’s exploits at this time though were such that it was honoured by a royal inspection by King George V, the Prince of Wales and King Albert of the Belgians. (One page of this letter is missing)
The last of the four letters shows Albert writing from the Regimental Headquarters when he was a member of the Signalling team that played football against other units including ‘A’ Company of the 9thRoyal Sussex Regiment. He was soon back in the trenches though and during his time in France took part in the Battle of Loos, the Wulvergham Gas Attack and the Battle of Delville Wood.
Having survived all that it was tragically inevitable perhaps that he was eventually killed during the last battle he was involved in at Guillemont during the long months of the battles of the Somme. That village was eventually taken after some weeks but on the day of the 18thAugust 1916 there was heavy Howitzer bombardment and machine gunning from the enemy hidden in cornfields causing a temporary withdrawal by the British – perhaps this was when Albert met his fate.
Signaller Albert Warren 17129,
‘A’ Company, 4thPlatoon, 7thBattalion
Died in action at the Battle of the Somme 18thAugust 1916
Footnote:- Albert had been a bell ringer at Moulton’s church and on the hundredth anniversary of his passing a special peal was arranged in his memory attended by present day members of his family.
© Roger Bateman, Shoreham 2018
Albert’s Letters by courtesy of Mary Gibbs and the Warren Family
Moulton Scene magazine Winter issue 2016
7thBattalion Northamptonshire Regiment 1914 – 1919 by H. B. King M.C.
Neil De Ville 7thBattalion Northamptonshire Regiment postcard collection